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Evaluating energy drinks

By Maui V. Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 18:59:00 06/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines?A trip to the local supermarket now will overwhelm you with a wide array of new energy drinks, with promises of ?mental stamina? and ?vitamins,? even boasting ingredients like royal jelly and ginseng.

What?s in a bottle?

Ingredients that supposedly ?enhance performance? includes taurine, inositol and sodium citrate.

Taurine is known as a mild sedative, an age-defying anti-oxidant, and has the potential to steady irregular heartbeats. It regulates brain functions and helps improve memory. It?s also isolated from bull bile, although the drinks in the market use synthetically manufactured taurine.

Sodium citrate is used as a preservative in sodas and cheese spreads. It also converts glucose into lactic acid during exercise, and helps replace electrolytes lost when exercising.

But what really gives energy drinks ?wings? is one staple ingredient: caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant, so it increases concentration and reaction to speed, boosts your metabolism and keeps you awake through a full three-hour session with the most boring professor on earth.

An energy drink can contain about 50-80 mg of caffeine a bottle, and, being a distant cousin of cocaine, caffeine can be highly addicting?which explains why some people believe they can?t function without their morning coffee.

The difference between your usual cup of joe and a bottle of Red Bull?

?We actually call energy drinks ?functional drinks,? because they contain added ingredients that provide certain health benefits,? Gold?s Gym nutritionist Joanna Cacait said. ?Coffee contains just caffeine and maybe some antioxidants.?

Too much of a good thing

Since caffeine increases your heart rate, it can cause palpitations, anxiety attacks and insomnia in some people. But these are the least of an energy drinker?s problems.

In 2000, France banned Red Bull from the market when an 18-year-old Irish basketball player died after ingesting four cans of the stuff. While Red Bull was considered the culprit, doctors cited ?Sudden Adult Death Syndrome? as the cause of death.

Certain schools in the United States have prohibited the selling of energy drinks in nearby convenience stores, after students complained of headaches and palpitations because of the drinks.

This is probably what gives energy drinks a bad rap, despite some variants having lower caffeine content than coffee and sodas.

?Brewed coffee can have more than 100 mg, and softdrinks like Mountain Dew have more than 50 mg of caffeine,? said Jojo Gaviola, brand manager for Revicon I-on (Revicon I-On contains 50 mg of caffeine). ?But softdrinks are not mandated by law to state how much caffeine they contain.?

He also pointed out that caffeine products aren?t recommended to children, pregnant women and those with heart ailments. ?This is clearly written on our can,? he said.

According to Dr. Sanirose Orbeta, one of the country?s leading dieticians and former chair of the Board of Nutrition, a healthy, active person can stomach up to 300 mg of caffeine a day.

?It also has a psychological effect on people,? she said. ?Once you?ve built a tolerance to caffeine, your body thinks it can take in more than the recommended dose.?

Some cardiologists are convinced that inducing more than 500 mg of caffeine can cause palpitations.

Caffeine is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine in as fast as 45 minutes, but stays in your system for hours: Cacait said a healthy person who consumes about 200 mg of caffeine can expect it to remain in the system for more than six hours.

Tolerance and lifestyle are big factors in one?s reaction to caffeine, but, according to Orbeta, 3-5 mg of caffeine per kilo bodyweight is a safe amount.

However, once ingested, no amount of water chugging can wash it from your system.
According to Cacait, ?since caffeine is a diuretic, you lose water. Drinking water just replenishes the water that you?ve lost. The caffeine, however, still remains in your bloodstream.?

Dangerous mix

Now imagine the effects of combining two diuretics.

In 2001, the Swedish National Food Administration looked into the dangers of energy drinks when three people died after drinking energy drink-laced cocktails.

So why mix energy drinks with alcohol? Many believe the combination of a ?downer? (alcohol) and an ?upper? (caffeine) can heighten their senses and give them a feeling of euphoria.
Jane Dumal, a call-center agent, admitted to mixing Extra Joss, a powdered energy-drink variant, with beer the night before her graduation to ?keep her going ?til the ceremony.?

?I drank so many drinks that night, even mixing them,? she said. ?I didn?t crash at all, and I didn?t get a hangover. I felt like I wasn?t drunk!?

While adding energy drinks to alcohol is slowly becoming a trend, some energy drink companies don?t endorse such practices.
?People prefer to mix Bacchus in their alcoholic drinks, but we do not encourage this practice unlike some of our competitors,? said Bacchus sales and marketing manager Doy Lukban.

One of the misconceptions of mixing energy drinks with alcohol is it can lessen one?s drunkenness.
In fact, it does the opposite. As an upper, caffeine doesn?t reduce the effects of alcohol, but merely makes one more alert, giving the impression that one needs to drink even more alcohol to get drunk. And contrary to what people say, it doesn?t prevent hangovers.

?Caffeine dehydrates you. You get hangovers because you?re dehydrated. How can taking more caffeine prevent a hangover?? Cacait said.

Reaping the benefits

But what about the added benefits of energy drinks?

One of the oldest ready-to-drink energy drinks launched in the market is Bacchus, which harps on its high taurine content. While most energy drinks contain 1,000 mg of taurine or less, Bacchus contains 2,000 mg.

?Taurine is closely linked with brain development. Aside from enhancing memory, it helps keep the mind mentally alert and focused,? said Lukban.

?Bacchus does not only give that physical boost but, most importantly, provides mental boost. In fact, taurine is also being promoted by various infant-milk companies in their formula.?

While taurine acts as an anti-anxiety agent in the central nervous system, thus earning its ?mental alertness? medal, Cacait said ingredients like taurine and inositol are ?nonessential vitamins? since our bodies manufacture them for us.

?Taurine may be a good supplement for infants, who can?t produce enough themselves, but for adults, it?s not that necessary.?

And since taurine can be derived from animal products, chances are, if you?re a carnivore, you?re already getting your daily fill.

?You get a sufficient amount of taurine from the meat you eat and from dairy products,? Orbeta said.

As far as how much taurine you need, Orbeta pointed out that Food and Nutrition researchers mostly focus on recommended doses of macro-nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium.

And while the wonder drug Inositol?s antidepressant powers can be found in some energy drinks, the dosage isn?t enough to make much of an effect.
According to Wired magazine, you?d need to take about 360 cans of Red Bull a day to reap its benefits. Again, Orbeta said that inositol can be found in foods like peanuts, monggo, and oranges.

Aside from the high taurine content, Lukban said that Bacchus is the only drink that contains Korean ginseng, which is supposed to be the most expensive ginseng in the world.

Revicon I-On, on the other hand, includes ginseng, royal jelly, iron and multivitamins. All its benefits, Orbeta said, can be found in the food we eat everyday.

Despite the supposed health benefits and performance-enhancing effects of these drinks, Cacait said he doesn?t recommend them to her clients.

?I don?t make my clients drink caffeine at least two hours before a game, because it can cause anxiety.?
While studies showed ginseng reduced muscle fatigue in rats, the herb isn?t a necessary ingredient. ?A good alternative is glucose. Glucose gives you energy. caffeine just stimulates the energy that glucose gives you.?

As for the sodium in energy drinks? They help replenish electrolytes lost through perspiration. However, too much can be toxic.

?It?s not recommended for those who aren?t physically active,? Cacait said. ?It can do great damage to your kidneys, and cause lots of problems, such as uric acid crystal formation.?

?All of these extra-added ingredients in energy drinks, and them saying one ingredient is what makes their product better isn?t right,? said Orbeta. ?It?s also not a good idea to just zero in on one nutrient, because you really need a balanced diet to function well.?

The best energy boost

Energy boosters are creeping into different markets as well. IDS Marketing, manufacturer of Red Bull, has launched ?Barako Energy Coffee Mix,? a powdered energy drink that has the full-flavor of coffee, but includes taurine, inositol, ginseng, royal jelly, vitamin B complex.

For Orbeta, though, if you?re looking for that energy boost, you should look no further than a well-stocked kitchen.

?Energy comes from the correct amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates, not from energy drinks,? he said.

?These energy drink manufacturers are marketing geniuses. They make you think you need their product to perform well. But really, nothing can replace a good breakfast. You get your energy from a good breakfast and a well-balanced meal. The problem with kids today, especially those in call centers, is that they don?t have the time to have a proper meal because they?re always rushing. So instead, they take caffeine to stay awake.?

Having trained many of the country?s athletes, Orbeta said he endorses the food pyramid for a healthy balanced diet. ?I tell the PBA players to bring oranges and pasta to practice?good food to give them the energy they need.?

And for that extra energy boost? The most simple and affordable energy drink possible: a teaspoon of brown sugar in a glass of water with a dash of pandan or calamansi. ?They get the sucrose they need for energy. It?s as simple as that,? she said.

However, she said if you can tolerate drinks like Red Bull, then go right ahead with the chugging?in moderation.

?When it comes to anything with caffeine, take it in moderation. And make sure you drink lots of water. Women should take nine glasses, and men 12 glasses.?

?If you don?t have sufficient knowledge about the product, don?t take it,? she cautioned. ?I see people who throw up after drinking an energy drink, and they claim they took it because their friends said it gives them energy. What is good for one person might not be good for you.?

Gaviola put it another way. ?There is nothing inherently wrong nor unhealthy with energy drinks. The ingredients are common to pharmaceuticals and health products. The problems only arise when the product usage is abused, and when people are misinformed.?


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